An extended stretch of Interstate 5 in Shasta County has reopened with restrictions after five days of closure caused by the raging Delta Fire, which has ignited big rigs and cars, injured at least one person and consumed more than 49,000 acres as of Monday evening, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Caltrans, as well as the California Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies, announced that the 45-mile stretch of I-5 between Redding and Mount Shasta, closed since Wednesday, had been reopened as of 8:30 a.m. Monday.
There are restrictions in place, though. A 17-mile stretch of the reopened freeway is reduced to one lane in each direction. Roads are open to through traffic only, meaning ramps to and from I-5 in affected fire areas will be regulated by CHP and Caltrans, according to a news release.
Additionally, no flammable vehicles — such as those containing logs or lumber — will be allowed through; they will be screened northbound at Fawndale Road and southbound at Mott Road, Caltrans said in a news release. Those vehicles will need to continue to use the Highway 299 detour.
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Caltrans still warns motorists to expect long travel times and significant delays in Monday’s announcement. A day earlier, Caltrans tweeted that the stretch of freeway would remain closed indefinitely.
Reports by California Highway Patrol officers and other drivers last week estimated that the designated detour route, Highway 299, had added about eight hours of travel time due to severe congestion.
The blaze, which started last Wednesday about 10 miles north of Redding near Lakehead, has burned 49,874 acres and was 5 percent contained as of 7:58 p.m. Monday, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest unit. The blaze is expected to be fully contained by Saturday, Sept. 22.
The fast-growing fire forced more than a dozen truckers and other drivers to abandon their vehicles on the freeway last week, CHP officials said.
“Critical fire weather conditions” are expected Tuesday and Wednesday in parts of Shasta County, National Weather Service Sacramento tweeted Monday morning.
Fire officials expected the situation to be “moderate” early Monday as smoke from the Delta Fire shades the burning areas, but fire behavior could become “active” once that shade breaks, according to Sunday night’s incident report. Burnout operations continue along the north and northeastern edges of the fire, the report said.
Cal Fire and California Interagency Incident Management Team 4 have taken unified command in fire efforts, Shasta-Trinity National Forest said in a tweet Monday morning.
Mandatory evacuation orders were still in place as of Monday morning for Shasta County residents along the I-5 corridor from Exit 707 at Vollmers north to Exit 714 at Gibson, as well as for residents in Trinity County from East Fork Road to Ramshorn Road east to the county line. Evacuation advisories are also in place nearby. Two evacuation centers are active, at Mercy Oaks in Redding and at the National Guard Armory in Mount Shasta.
The latest evacuation information can be found on Shasta-Trinity National Forest’s incident page.
About 2,400 fire personnel among were assigned to the Delta Fire as of Sunday night, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Delta Fire started last Wednesday afternoon and erupted to 5,000 acres the same day. Officials believe it is human-caused, according to the official incident report, but no other details are known about the fire’s origins.
A number of schools in Shasta County were closed by the end of last week due to smoke, the Record Searchlight reported Friday.
A U.S. Forest Service temporary air quality monitor registered readings in the “very unhealthy” to “hazardous” range over the weekend, with conditions at their worst around noon Friday through Sunday.
Monday’s weather forecast predicts temperatures in the mid- to high 90s for the Redding area.
The nearby Hirz Fire, also in Shasta County, has burned through 46,150 acres and was 97 percent contained as of Monday evening, Shasta-Trinity National Forest said in an update.
A community meeting regarding the Delta and Hirz fires was held Monday at the Trinity Center Community Hall.
This is a developing story. Please check sacbee.com for updates.